From the Rookie of the Year race to the gauntlet that is the Western Conference, many dominoes are bound to fall before the end of April.
The first half of NBA action has been exciting and action-packed. With the way this season’s been going, there is no way the second half will disappoint. All star weekend has come and gone, and now it’s time to get ready for the playoff push. This is when players really get dialed in and play some good basketball.
There are three big things to keep an eye out for the rest of the way:
Will Doncic run away with Rookie of the Year?
Right now, Doncic is the clear-cut rookie of the year leader. Doncic is having a fantastic season, putting up 20.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and a steal per game on 43%/35%/72% shooting. If those numbers sound familiar, they should, because those are eerily similar to the rookie year of Lebron James: 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.6 steals on 42%/29%/75% shooting.
I’m not calling Doncic the next coming of Lebron, but this sly Slovenian is outperforming any expectations and leading the Mavericks at 19 years old. His only real competition (honorable mention to Deandre Ayton…) is Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks.
Trae Young is putting up 16.9pts/3.3rbds/7.6asts/0.9stls on 40.6%/31%/80% shooting. His stats are nowhere near as flashy as Doncic, plus the Hawks aren’t winning many games. What Trae does have going for him is the fact that he’s an excellent shooter (despite his percentages), and is a phenomenal passer. He has a bright future in the league, but I think Doncic runs away with it.
Who will win out for the 8th seed in the West?
The Western conference is a bloodbath as always. There are only 4 games separating the 4th and 9th seeds, and there are 25 games to go. The teams that are in contention for the playoffs (and we’re assuming Golden State, Denver, and OKC all make it in) are: Portland, Houston, Utah, San Antonio, Clippers, Lakers, and Sacramento.
Barring any injuries, Portland, Houston, and Utah all make it in. They are all lead by stars and have decent teams to support them. Harden will carry the Rockets in one way or another, and Utah’s defense is too good to ignore.
That leaves both LA teams, San Antonio, and Sacramento. The Clippers hosted a fire sale and shipped out Tobias Harris to Philly, so it seems like they gave up. San Antonio always seems to make the playoffs, and DeRozan and Aldridge will find a way to make it in. That means the real race for 8 is between the Lakers and Sacramento.
The Lakers are 28-29, while Sacramento is 30-27. Lebron has been injured and missed a good deal of games, but the Kings are also hungry. After seeing Lebron in eight straight finals, it’s hard to imagine him not even making the playoffs, so despite their deficit, the Lakers narrowly edge out Sacramento for the 8th seed.
Will Philadelphia and Boston resolve their respective issues?
Two teams with every potential of being the first seed in the East. Boston, fresh off a game 7 loss in the Conference Finals to none other than Lebron. Philly, already looking good with Simmons and Embiid, but then adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to truly stack their team.
Boston has a ton of young talent in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They had an incredible year last year, with both players performing when it mattered. Boston also has a proven star in Kyrie Irving, and an injured star in Gordon Hayward. Al Horford is quietly doing his job like a stud.
The younger guys are frustrated at losing minutes to the veterans, because they nearly made it to the finals themselves. Don’t forget the fact that Gordon Hayward has been largely ineffective this year due to returning from his horrific injury. He’ll get better, but he needs play time. Then, with all the Anthony Davis drama, half the team was thrown around in trade rumors.
If you ask me, Boston has too much going on, and the team will largely play selfish basketball to finish out the season, resulting in them ultimately defeating themselves.
Philly is a trickier issue, because you have young stars in Embiid and Simmons, but then you have fresh stars in Butler and Harris. Then you have JJ Redick shooting the ball every time it touches his hands, while being the fifth best player on the starting lineup.
The 76ers really need some time to mesh together and figure out a way for them all to coexist. I’m primarily concerned about Jimmy Butler, considering his dramatic exit from Minnesota and his claims he isn’t being used properly by Brett Brown. I’d also like for JJ Redick to realize he doesn’t have to shoot the ball every time he touches it, and that there are four other all stars on his team. I think Philly overall performs well, but 25 games isn’t enough for them to mesh so they won’t win the East.